For too long, we have been socialized to ask and answer the common question “Where are you from?”
For many Black people and Indigenous communities, this question is triggering because of unknown and/or traumatic, severed pasts due to colonialism. We must remember that personal stories, lineages, cultures, and authentic histories have suffered from systemic erasure globally.
Asking “Where are you from?” continues to otherize folx who identify as BBIA, adopted, multicultural, and more.
For the AAPI community, this question reinforces that we do not belong, and is too often followed up with “But where are you really from?” — indicating a displeasure with and refusal of whatever answer originally given, as if to comment that a person could not possibly be from anywhere other than what is close to or matches the mental stereotype within one’s colonized mind.
Decolonize the idea that the question “Where are you from?” must be answered with a geographical location.
We are from what we say we are from, who we say we are from, where we say we are from, and anything we say we are from that is authentic to who we are.
We each have a multiplicity of identities, and we define for our individual selves if and how we want to respond to this question when we inevitably continue to be asked this throughout our lives.
Our intent matters, and our impact matters.
Reflect on the intent in asking and being asked “Where are you from?”
Regardless of whether the intent in asking meets a surface-level desire to know masked under the false pretense of curiosity that only satisfies the person who asks the question or aims to build one’s understanding, having internalized this question as a truth-bearer of identity, the impact of asking can be harmful, toxic, and traumatic, especially with repetition.
We must reframe the common question “Where are you from?” so that we do not further perpetuate stereotypes, nor do we reduce people to only be representatives of their assumed and/or authentic social groups.
Create and continuously recreate new questions with the intent of building deep understanding across communities and cultures. Involve your communities in this process of reimagination.
“What do you choose to share about your identity/identities?”
“Where do you call home?”
“Who is your community?”
Freedom dream new ways to define and share who you are — for yourself.
Listen intently and fully to the questions, ideas, stories, emotions, and arts shared with reimagined questions to understand your own self, your community/communities, and fellow communities.
How to describe myself as an Asian American woman right now? I used to walk on the street, go on the subway and turn the music up real loud I’m a musician, a teacher, and I want to feel the sound in my bones Instead I’m scared of having my teeth or head knocked off my orange-seated throne
Every day I gotta choose on my commute, dependent on my mood Do I go through my lesson in my head, keep my eyes down on my shoes No, I can’t, instead I stay alert all around me On a good day I’m listening to a podcast, out of 10 on a volume of 3
How do I begin to explain the daily negotiations When news, media, and law don’t acknowledge the racial motivations 360 West 43rd, I used to live next door Will it be me or my mom you’ll shut out on the concrete floor
What if I spoke up, how you like that? I’m dynamite, and a firecracker and I won’t be typecast I won’t stand for society’s erasure of my i-dentity I’m here for good measure, for no one’s pleasure, for us and our entities
Strong like chrome I can’t be sanded down And unlike a cassette tape, I won’t be rewound Even with my small feet I won’t let me be bound I can step in and out of Chinatown for my words to be heard and found
My dad emigrated from Hong Kong so my last name TSUI is Cantonese But (in Cantonese) I do not speak Cantonese, (in English) I’m actually Shanghainese But (in Shanghainese) if I speak Shanghainese, (in English) y’all go weak at your knees, And as MC Jin says, y’all better learn Chinese
But being Asian is more than just being from China I’m a member, a representative of the collective from major to minor AAPI, a political term for Asian American Pacific Islander Is not just about East Asians or me that you hear rhyming here
For the South Asians, Brown Asians, Black Asians in our society Undocumented Asians, adopted Asians, more than obeyers of filial piety Shouts to Tony Delarosa, Dr. Kevin Nadal We must be more inclusive than the diversity and equity institutional walls
GoFundMe, Go Fund us in our neighborhoods, our needs and wants Don’t need the blue eyes white supremacy dragon slanted, tilted, a-Flaunt Remember, the system is built on the backs of Black people and labor When we divide ourselves up we ain’t doing anyone no favors
Maxine Hong Kingston reminds me of my fellow warrior women And I want you to listen to the LGBTQ+ and Trans fams, the non-binary people and visions We must have more than just my mom’s good luck superstitions Trust y’all, we need to do more learning and listening on our mission
We’re NO model minority, we’re the global majority Our voices together are stronger than any authority So my call to action is for us is to truly unite We cannot do this alone, we need each other in this fight
Justice is not just is it’s for just us We cannot take the master’s tools to rectify or make just We can call to those in power to help our communities But we must step off each other’s subway stops for true cross-coalition unity
Let’s stand together and if you need some perspective Remember that this is lifelong work as one intersectional collective We are striving for the liberation of our marginalized peoples Each one of us is a hero, rest in power 13-year-old Adam Toledo
Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, BBIA BIPOC solidarity, We’re here united and we will rise today Black Lives Matter as we stand on Munsee Lenape Indigenous Lands Deep within us, we’re together, our hearts, souls, and hands
It’s 4.4, the anniversary of Dr. King’s final breath countdown AAPI history, lives, and arts in schools, Ethnic studies is the starting ground We must eradicate anti-Blackness, It’s not simply just stop Asian hate Ask “how can I use my voice to activate and stop ALL hate”?
And beyond that I’m asking that we spread so much love As powerful as the firebird’s flames and the peace of a soaring dove And to tell every kid we know in our lives and see, “You matter, and know your voice can set you free”
For my grandfathers and my grandmother, who I’ve never met I am your wildest dream each day from sunrise to sunset Today is 清明节 (Qing Ming Jie), a day that means literally clear and bright In many Asian cultures, it’s a day of rituals for our ancestors’ spirit and might
And for them, our ancestors, our presence, our future, for all to hear it’s not just we belong here It’s we belong – together.
For our ancestors, each other, this moment, our children, say this with me:
I shine bright with my golden light. I shine bright with my golden light.
Dear grandfathers, grandmothers, I will protect your daughter and son My mom and my dad, I will protect all our loved ones As my students say, our joy is revolutionary, Because we are golden, we are worthy.
Today, I want to end with Isang Bagsak. Isang Bagsak is a solidarity clap that originated in the cross-cultural fight unifying Filipinx and Latinx communities through Larry Itliong and Cezar Chavez. Isang Bagsak literally translates to “one down” and is a unity clap – to signal unity in movements together and that this moment is one down, of many more to go. I learned this from Tony Delarosa, and I am not the culture bearer of “Isang Bagsak”, I am a culture sharer. I, along with all of you, will start clapping together – slowly. As we gain momentum and the clap gets faster and louder, pulsating here in New York City, I will say “Isang Bagsak”, and right after you hear that, we will clap ONE TIME together – as a collective. Let’s do it.
Isang Bagsak 加油 (Jia You) My name is Alice Tsui. Thank you.